RECENTLY my computer crashed and bade a sudden farewell to me. I tried to retrieve as many of my documents as possible, but found out, painfully, that I had permanently lost a number of sermons and an article that I had written. These were for future use.
Rewriting the article was not a big problem as I had written it just before the computer gave up, and the contents were still fresh in my mind. But writing the sermons again was a different story, for I had written them much earlier.
Among the sermons was a series of three on the church that I had prepared for a speaking engagement in the future. When I wrote the original sermons, I had taken great pleasure in them, because of the experience of the Lord Himself leading me by the hand through the pages of His Word. These were personal moments of some wonderful discoveries and insights that came from conversations with the Lord and His Word. In fact, after I had completed writing the sermons, I thought they were special because of the many insights gained in God’s unhurrying and nourishing presence. The sermons were a record of my encounter with the living Word, and I actually wondered whether I should develop these sermons into a book.
Then the computer crashed and changed all that. I lost my sermon texts permanently, and felt a great sense of loss. Rewriting them was like returning to places I had been with the Lord, stopping at texts, words, thoughts, memories of epiphanies, lingering where He spoke lovingly and clearly, retracing the steps of a leisurely walk, and remembering a mind-stretching and heart-touching conversation. I was not in control, the Lord and His Word being in control when I wrote the original texts. Eventually, I rewrote the sermons; not being able to remember all the details in the original texts, I am quite sure that the newer texts are not identical to the original ones. These new texts will be used to preach, and God can be trusted
to use them to bless people.
But the first group of texts are gone permanently. As I thought about them and felt their loss, I realised that they were not meant to be preserved as texts. The experience was to be preserved as a memory to be privately cherished, not as a text to be publicly shared.
Is that not true in our experience of relating to the Lord? There are some things just between Him and us. And why not? A danger, especially for preachers, teachers and writers, is that all the results of our experience of God may end up as “products” to be used in ministry. What is true for preachers is also true for Christians in the pews.
There must be some “material” that arise from our relationship with God that must remain in the private space we have with God, only meant for God’s eyes and ears. This is why our Lord stressed the importance of a secret dimension of our spiritual lives – whether it is praying, fasting, or helping the poor (Mt. 6:1-6). The transaction is noted only by God and the individual disciple.
After Dag Hammarskjöld, the United Nations Secretary-General, died tragically in a plane crash in 1961, his personal journal was discovered and published as Markings, a wonderful book overflowing with rich and deep spirituality. In the book’s foreword, W. H. Auden noted that Hammarskjöld did not “make a single direct reference to his career as an international civil servant, to the persons he met, or the historical events of his time in which he played an important role”. This man had a rich interiority that though, no doubt, connected to his external world, nevertheless had a life of its own in the presence of God. This book is a record of Hammarskjöld’s own private and sacred conversations with God. In it he wrote of his relationship with God: “Before Thee in humility, with Thee in faith, in Thee in peace.” What if Hammarskjöld’s journal had gone to the grave with him? Would the journal then be a waste? I certainly do not think so.
MOST of us have had the experience of writing something, say, a prayer, only to lose it. There are some prayers our hearts produce that we release to God. I myself have written some poems to God that will never be shared or published; some were written on scraps of paper that eventually drifted away into oblivion. I have also composed and sung songs on the spot to worship God, never to retrieve the songs for later use. In such instances, the “products” of our experience of God have no further use than as spontaneous offerings given to God. They are offered up to heaven as “fragrant offerings”. They go up in smoke and are released forever to the God who loves us.
Do we lose anything in doing so? No, it is more of a gain than a loss. Did not Jesus (not all of whose teachings, deeds and prayers have been recorded for us – Jn. 21:25) teach us that the one who tries to keep his life will lose it, but the one who loses it for His sake, will find it? (Mt. 10:39). What if we lost all that we had produced or achieved? Do we lose anything? Even if we lost everything, we still have Christ, and if we have Him, we have everything (1 Cor. 3:21-23). Such lessons are discovered in moments of loss – whether it is a job, or a loved one, or sermon notes.
Did I waste the days I spent preparing the material I lost? In a worldly sense, yes, but in the economy of God, no. Some things cannot be measured by results and productivity. In fact, in our relationship with God, we need to find chunks of time where we can “waste time with God”. These hours are burnt up as “fragrant offerings”. Such moments are released to God, not to be used as products but treasured as sacred memories. They are not really lost, for they are stored forever in the heart of a God whose heaven is known for recording everything in books (Rev. 20:12) and, as we read in Ps. 56:8, for keeping a record of all our tears on earth.